A winter afternoon in Amish country has a storybook feel despite the traffic. One doesn’t have to venture more than 30 miles west of Philadelphia to be surrounded by picturesque hillsides blanketed with snow and punctuated with farm silos. Every home, it seems, has a long pulley-operated clothesline angling from the house to the top of a barn or tall pole, so that frozen sheets and shirts hang 20 feet off the ground.
Off the beaten path of tourist stops and quilt shops, horse-drawn buggies are about as common as cars, and the snowy farms seem an idyllic place to live, until you remember that milking cows in the frozen dawn and shoveling manure into a mule-drawn spreader come with the territory.
Despite their staid reputation, the Amish have a deep sense of humor, though I’m not sure it’s always intended the way visitors take it. Driving along Route 30, you pass through a town called Paradise, where there’s a big sign pointing to “Christ’s Home Office.” I know (thanks to Google) that it’s a residential children’s home, but still — finding Christ’s home office in Paradise was fun.
In Lancaster, at the Mennonite Information Center, you can see a life-sized replica of the tabernacle as described in the book of Exodus, with the exception that it has real walls and a roof rather than the four layers of woven cloth and skins called for in the Old Testament. It has a really cheesy feel (to me), but the guides take it very seriously. When I asked why the Mennonites have such an interest in the tabernacle, it turns out that the replica was built by a Baptist preacher in Florida about 40 years ago. He later sold it to a Mennonite evangelist, who operated it in Florida for a while before bringing it north.
Stopping at Katie’s Kitchen, you can sample pepper cabbage and creamed celery while falling in love with their homemade peanut butter. Then, looping back along Route 340, you can visit communities with names like Bird-in-Hand, Intercourse (really), and White Horse. Running low on fuel, I wondered why there seemed to be so few gas stations, until I remembered that buggies run on one horsepower.
The Prius did make it down Octorara Trail to a WaWa station in Sadsbury, and I was glad: hitching a buggy ride into town would not be much of a storybook ending.